Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer isn’t just her queer record—her big coming out—as nothing with Monáe could ever be so simply stated. As she told Rolling Stone, “I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.” It’s this concept of freedom, especially in the face of adversity, that dominates her third studio album, as well as the importance of discovering what you believe in and accepting every part of yourself.
With a description like that, it bares the question, “what doesn’t Janelle Monáe cover?” and the question, though valid, is honestly answered with, “she kind of does cover it all.” Not every track on Dirty Computer expresses the larger idea in the best way possible, but in the context of her “big reveal,” that Janelle Monáe is sexually fluid and proud, it all joyously stacks up.
Opener and title track “Dirty Computer” expresses the concept that even if we’re all sheen and sleak on the outside, we all have our problems. She told Rolling Stone that it took her years of therapy to realize that her “computer virus” was just an undiscovered part of her. “I felt misunderstood,” she revealed, “Being a queer black woman in America… I’m open to learning more about who I am.”
In the accompanying video for Dirty Computer, a 48-minute “emotion picture,” as she calls it, the establishment has captured her to wipe her of her memories and leave her blank, as if to clean the “dirty computer.” Monáe, who is used to performing under an android moniker and character, has officially become “Janelle Monáe” on Dirty Computer, accepting both her feelings and freedoms as well as her robotic and perfectionist elements as well.
One of the largest influences on the record comes from the late singer Prince, whom she worked with on her previous record Electric Lady, and his echoes can be heard all over the the pop tinges of “Make Me Feel.” “Prince was actually working on the album with me before he passed on to another frequency,” she told BBC Radio 1, “I really miss him… and his spirit will never leave me.”
It was her connection to the singer that probably shook her to discover more about herself and her music following his passing, considering Dirty Computer to be “a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities,” as she told The New York Times. It’s on tracks like “Pynk,” “I Like That,” and “Don’t Judge Me” that really bring those ideas home, and carry the record’s otherwise loose political views.
Not to say that Dirty Computer is a perfect record, as tracks such as “Screwed” include the odd lyrics “Everything is sex/Except sex, which is power/You know power is just sex/Now ask yourself who’s screwing you.” “Screwed” makes a double-entendre of what isn’t a light subject, and closing track “Americans” has Monáe seemingly a little too excited and proud to be American during a time when, as a queer black woman, she has a lot to fight for.
It might be the most bumble-gum pop she’s every been, but it’s the most free she’s ever felt. On tracks such as “Don’t Judge Me,” “Django Jane,” and “I Like That,” we can really feel Monáe celebrating Black Girl Magic and enjoying loving herself, flaws in all. In the end, no matter how bad the political landscape is, it’s really all that matters. “I know I got issues but they drown when I kiss you,” she sings on “Don’t Judge Me,” “Let’s reintroduce ourselves, from a free point of view… let the rumors be true.”
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